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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Merely Players’ more than just a side-project for HTP

Published: November 18, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

“Merely Players” was a wholly successful side-project put on by the Shakespeare group Hold Thy Peace this past weekend. A comedy by Brandeis graduate Phoebe Roberts ’09, M.A. ’12, “Merely Players” playfully mocks theater troupes’ and actors’ constant bid for the spotlight while still glorifying them.

The play was put on in Schwartz Auditorium, a venue that I personally had never seen used for a show, having only attended lectures in there. HTP successfully utilized the space, however, by moving the desks out and moving in tables for a sort of dinner show/cabaret setting. Indeed, placed on the tables were pieces of papers that doubled as mini-playbills and menus. Proceeds from items ordered went toward HTP fundraising. HTP actresses not acting in the show were waitresses as they took my table’s orders for brownies and cider. It was a very welcoming and surprising part of the setting that helped set the jovial mood for the play beforehand.

While we ate and waited for the show to begin, the actors in the actual show appeared in character and engaged in hilarious banter. At one point, Malcolm, the pretentious lead played by Ben Federlin ’14, yells to another actor, “You fungal growth! You’re homeless! Go back to under the bridge where we found you!” before hitting her on the head with his copy of “Othello.” These conversations occurred mostly along the sides of the stage portion of the auditorium, but occasionally the characters would venture into the audience along the side rows of the theater to great effect.

The humor only continued to flourish when the show began with the introduction of Cornelia (Stephanie Karol ’12) as the reluctant leader of the Shakespeare group. She discussed the difficulties of the burden of leading and how repulsed she was by actors. Karol, dressed in all black and donning white gloves, was hilarious and simultaneously terrifying. Having spent much of the pre-show act rolling around on various surfaces in Schwartz Auditorium, her entrance was doubly funny.

After her introduction of the theater troupe, the group breaks into a well-choreographed scene depicting the different aspects of acting, from applying make-up, to practicing lines, to struggling to get so much done in such a short period of time. From then on, the play depicts the actors rehearsing for Shakespeare plays that are clearly noted by a sign on the side of the stage. This works incredibly well as it gives the actors something with which to pretend to be preoccupied while also having source material at which to poke fun. For example, at one point in the play, Malcolm and Orlando (Andrew Prentice ’13) fight for the attention of newcomer Sylvia (Gabrielle Geller ’12) and end up pulling her back and forth during the “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” rehearsal. Other plays mentioned include “Hamlet,” “The Tempest,” “Henry V” and “King Lear,” which features a particularly hilarious bit with Malcolm tearing his shirt open, ripping off one of his buttons. Whether or not that was intentional will never truly be known by this audience member.

“Merely Players” differs greatly from the main shows that HTP puts on due to the fact that it is not written by Shakespeare, but the underlying emotions and passions the group has for Shakespeare carries through to put together a great show. Archite the fool was played by Lenny Somervell ’12, well-known for her comedic roles in previous HTP shows, and this translates extraordinarily well in the small Schwartz venue. She showed no restraint when it came to breaking down the fourth wall and walking into the audience, petting one of my tablemates, and going around to give someone else her phone number. Truly Karol’s and Somervell’s performances were the highlights of the play, their acting pulling the various pieces of the show together into a clever whole. The show ended with just the two on the stage, concluding the show with Archite’s line, “Better to be a witty fool than a foolish wit,” a reference to “Twelfth Night.”

The exact allure of “Merely Players” is hard to pinpoint because of the various phenomenal parts of the show, but a great contributing factor is the DIY nature of the show. Every part of the performance from the food, to the wait staff, even to the script was all made for and provided by the HTP members. At some points, it felt as though I was just in my friends’ basement on a Friday night, finally seeing the show my friends had been preparing. In fact, since HTP’s fall show “Margaret: A Tiger’s Heart” was put on about a month ago, the members must not have had that much time to put this together. All in all, “Merely Players” was a very good show with a homey feel that showcased not only HTP’s talent but also their dedication and affection for Shakespeare.